A sentencing circle has made several recommendations for Christopher Pauchay, the Saskatchewan father whose two young daughters froze to death last year — but none of them involves sending him to jail.
For five hours, Pauchay and about 20 other people from Yellow Quill First Nation were seated in a circle in the Rose Valley town hall discussing his case, sometimes with great emotion.
When they were done, provincial court Judge Barry Morgan heard a recommendation to allow Pauchay to be reunited with his wife Tracey Jimmy and their child.
The group also recommended Pauchay take drug and alcohol treatment and assist elders with cultural and spiritual activities.
Morgan, who has final say on the sentence, told the group he was listening, but wasn't bound by their recommendations.
The one-day sentencing circle was the latest step in the case of Pauchay, who last year pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing the death of his daughters Kaydance, 3, and Santana, 15 months, in January 2008.
It began with an aboriginal smudge ceremony, accompanied by the burning of sweetgrass.
Pauchay appeared to struggle for words when it was his turn to speak.
He looked at the floor, mumbled "I'm sorry," and broke down weeping.
Court has previously heard Pauchay was drunk when he took his two girls outside on Yellow Quill First Nation in blizzard-like conditions that felt like –50 C with the wind chill.
The girls, who weren't dressed for cold weather, were later found dead of hypothermia.
Pauchay, 25, didn't shed any light Friday on what happened the night the girls died. He referred instead to an earlier memory, telling the group of a time when he saw his oldest daughter sick with fever, looking at him with recognition for the first time.
He was in a "deep emotional" state after his daughters died, he said. He said he pleaded guilty because he felt guilty.
Family expresses grief
Members of the sentencing circle included police, Crown and defence lawyers, elders and others from the community, including family members.
Pauchay's wife made a passionate plea for the judge not to send her husband to jail. She said she loved him very much and he was the only man who understands her grief at losing her children.
Crown prosecutor Marylynne Beaton stuck to her earlier position that prison time was appropriate.
"It's still the Crown's position that a term of incarceration is called for," Beaton said outside court.
Several other members of Pauchay's family spoke as well. They talked of how difficult the year has been, coping with their own sadness as well as Pauchay's.
Pauchay's stepmother Joanne Machiskinic told the court the deaths of the two girls was one link in a chain of tragedies in the First Nations community, which is close to Rose Valley, about 230 kilometres east of Saskatoon.
She said Chris has been depressed and the family has been worried about that.
Community supports Pauchay, chief says
The case of the two girls who froze to death made headlines across Canada and cast a light on social problems and substance abuse on Yellow Quill First Nation.
At the conclusion of the hearing Friday afternoon, Yellow Quill chief Larry Cachene said the community supports Pauchay and Jimmy.
"Our people continue to fail when they enter the justice system due to the systematic barriers that exist," Cachene said in a written statement. "Rarely do they find healing and rehabilitation."
He said the community has been working to improve programs on the reserve and wants to build a "healing centre" to aid that process.
The Pauchay sentencing circle has been a topic of controversy on call-in radio shows and online forums.
Some have argued that there could be no punishment worse than the father knowing he was responsible for the deaths of his girls.
Others have expressed outrage that Pauchay might get off with a light to non-existent jail sentence for the deaths.
According to Tim Quigley, a University of Saskatchewan law professor, that suggests many people don't understand how sentencing circles actually work. They should remember it's the judge who will make the final decision, he said.
Furthermore, Pauchay is being forced to listen as his community talks about his crime, he said.
A normal sentencing hearing is much easier to sit through, he added.
"It's actually more onerous for the offender to go through this type of a sentencing process than the regular process because he has to hear what people have to say, how they have been affected by the crime," he said.
Now that the sentencing circle is finished, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled where Crown and defence lawyers will give their recommendations on sentencing.
The Crown is suggesting a sentence of 2½ to five years in prison. The defence says the judge should consider a non-jail conditional sentence.